A new exhibit at the Kingston Center of SUNY Ulster celebrates the legacy of the late painter and printmaker Benjamin Wigfall, who was a forerunner of the contemporary Black Arts Movement that blossomed in the 1960s and 1970s to reflect pride in African-American history and culture.
Wigfall’s many accomplishments included his being a pioneering college professor, community educator, and gallery owner. Innovatively he integrated three of these roles in the 1970s and 80s at his print studio in Kingston, which grew to become the dynamic art center he called Communications Village; in this learning laboratory Wigfall brought together local residents and artists, his SUNY-New Paltz students and colleagues, and many of his fellow nationally-renowned artists. The new exhibit will celebrate
“Restoring Pride in Culture: Legacy and Tradition” was organized by TRANSART & Cultural Services, an Ulster County organization whose mission is to promote and preserve the history, popular culture and art of peoples of African ancestry, and to cultivate local communities where all voices are heard, understood and valued throughout the Hudson Valley.
In 1951, Wigfall gained his first acclaim at the age of 21 years old when he was still a student at the Hampton Institute, when one of his paintings was granted first prize in an exhibition of Virginia artists and later acquired by the Virginia Museum. After graduating college and earning a Master’s in Fine Arts from Yale, he was hired to teach art at SUNY-New Paltz, where he was also the university’s first African-American professor. Starting in 1988, Wigfall also operated the Watermark Cargo gallery in Kingston, which many credit as one of the keys in the city’s later arts renaissance, which has helped its newer incarnation as a creative home to young entrepreneurship.
Wigfall’s spirit and legacy, including his lifetime devotion to civil rights and community actions, will be shown through his own work, plus art by several of his prominent peers including Romare Bearden, Robert Blackburn, Melvin Edwards, Ann Tanksley, and Emmett Wigglesworth. “Restoring Pride in Culture: Legacy and Tradition” will run through June 10 at the new SUNY Ulster campus located at 94 Marys Avenue in Kingston.